Birch and Briscoe, Entire Magic Staff and UnitedHealthcare Fight Hunger in Central Florida

by John Denton

ORLANDO – As he was packing food into a bag that will help feed hungry children during weekends away from school, Orlando Magic center Khem Birch was struck by his surroundings on Tuesday at the Amway Center.

In an assembly line not too far away from the 6-foot-9 Birch was Magic CEO Alex Martins, and not too far from there, Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman was similarly stocking bags with low-fat milk, multigrain bars, fruit cups, packets of macaroni and cheese and other food.

"I’ve seen Jeff here, I’ve seen Alex here and I was surprised that they were here because they didn’t have to do this," Birch said. "We probably have over 200 people here helping out and actions speak louder than words."

In what has become one of the franchise’s best traditions, the Magic backed up their desires to make a difference in the community by teaming up with UnitedHealthcare to assemble Hi-Five Kids Packs for Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida for a seventh straight year.

More than 200 staffers from the Magic, UHC and Second Harvest assembled 12,500 food packs that will translate into 50,000 meals for underserved children in the Central Florida area. The seven-year stint of packing food by the Magic and UHC is Second Harvest’s longest-running volunteer event.

"We’re really proud that we’ve been able to partner with Second Harvest Food Bank and United Healthcare on this program for the last seven years and obviously we’ve been able to impact hundreds of thousands of children with hundreds of thousands of meals and give them the opportunity to eat over the weekend when they may not have otherwise,’’ Martins said. "We’re really proud of this partnership and our intention is to keep this going as long as we possibly can."

In Central Florida, one in four children will face hunger at some point in their lives. The Hi-Five Kids Pack program provides meals to underserved children who do not have access to school cafeterias over weekends and holidays. Each food pack contains kid-friendly food such as cereal, shelf-stable milk and juice, fruit cups and other items. Last year, 20,718 food packs, equaling approximately 282,000 meals, were provided to children at 30 elementary schools in Central Florida. Since 2006, Second Harvest has distributed approximately 314,700 food packs or the equivalent of 944,244 meals.

"We really enjoy having our employees come out and give their time and this is part of our, "Do Good. Live well." initiative where we’re working to positively impact not only hunger, but also obesity," said UnitedHealthcare of Florida CEO Greg Reidy, whose "Do Good. Live Well." program attempts to decrease hunger and obesity, inspire service and encourage volunteerism. "We have probably 100 employees from around the state who came in to serve today."

Magic guard Isaiah Briscoe, who is out of action following surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his right knee, worked not too far away from Birch and others on Tuesday to load food in packs for children. He said it’s heartbreaking to think about children having to do without food over weekends and holidays and he was happy to do whatever he could to assist.

"It makes everybody feel good doing this to help out and I feel good doing this knowing that it’s for less fortunate kids," Briscoe said. "Everybody grows up different, and some people need help. Just being able to come out here and give back to the community, it’s a great thing.’’

Birch, whose daughter Ariadne recently turned two months old, has tried to focus his community work this season on causes that can benefit children. He said it was particularly gratifying knowing that Tuesday’s food-packing event would positively impact the lives of thousands of needy children in Central Florida.

"I love doing stuff like this and I love kids, as you can see with my previous appearances," Birch said. "The fact that we’re doing something specially to help the kids, it’s the best feeling in the world."

Martins takes pride in the fact that the Magic back up their talk of wanting to make a difference in the community with strong actions, such as the 200 employees working to pack food on Tuesday. Magic staffers contribute more than 6,000 hours of volunteer work annually, and since the start of the Magic Volunteer Program (MVP) in 2006, staffers, players and coaches have contributed more than 70,000 volunteer hours to the Central Florida community.

"It starts with our ownership and it started with Rich and Helen DeVos, who unfortunately are no longer with us," Martins said. "It continues with their family in teaching us to give back to our community and asking us to give back to those who are less fortunate in our community who give so much to us in terms of support.

"(Giving back) really is part of our culture and it’s one of our core values and we take it very seriously," Martins added.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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